April 26, 2012

RETRO ACTIVE: Web of the Spider (1971)

by Nick Schager

Web of the Spider [This week's pick is inspired by the Edgar Allan Poe-themed horror-mystery The Raven.]

Not to be nitpicky, but it would have benefited Web of the Spider if it had something—anything—to do with a spider. Or, for that matter, a spider's web. It's likely that director Antonio Margheriti intended his title to refer to the sinister trap set in his story by a castle proprietor for an American journalist, but that's hardly a reasonable reason for bestowing this 1971 film with its chosen moniker, especially given that it's a remake of Margheriti's own aptly-dubbed (and superior) 1964 Castle of Blood. Nonetheless, this Italian horror throwaway's problems aren't relegated to name alone, as the saga of a haunted abode and its spooky inhabitants is defined by lame-brained incompetence, a fate made all the more frustrating by the fact that it has the inspired idea to cast the incomparable Klaus Kinski as Edgar Allan Poe. Kinski opens the film flailing about a tomb with a torch in hand, lurching and spinning about with frantic, sweaty drunkenness, and smashing open a coffin before bellowing a hilarious "Noooooo!" Cut to a pub, where Kinski's Poe is regaling the patrons with one of his macabre tales, though what he truly proves interested in is Yankee reporter Alan Foster (Anthony Franciosa), whose disbelief in the supernatural—spurred by Poe claiming his stories are all reality-based—is soon challenged by Lord Blackwood (Enrico Osterman).

Web of the Spider

Blackwood owns a nearby castle that he claims is haunted, and bets Alan ten pounds that he can't survive a night alone in the place. Alan gladly accepts this offer, yet it's completely baffling why Blackwood suggests it in the first place, since it happens to be the one night of the year when the castle's ghouls materialize and attempt to continue their evil existences by feeding off of human blood. In other words, Blackwood gives his demonic houseguests an opportunity (through Alan) to prolong their afterlives—something he shouldn't want to do—over a ten-pound wager, a deal that makes as much sense as director Margheriti's relentless close-ups, which are so numerous that they thrust the material into a realm of numbing ugliness. That Margheriti also shakes his camera about while focusing on his players' eyes, necks, and foreheads makes Web of the Spider even goofier. Still, it's the action proper that's the real problem, because there's no real action to speak of, given the film's fondness for sequences in which Alan wanders about the musty castle bumping into things, hearing strange noises, and then delivering one laughably extreme overreaction after another.

Web of the Spider

After much roaming around, playing a piano, and staring at some portraits, Alan discovers that one of the wall's paintings is in fact alive—and not just alive, but a buxom hottie to boot. Elisabeth Blackwood (Michèle Mercier) seduces Alan in the blink of an eye, and after a quick drink of whiskey (Elisabeth: "I hope you like it." Alan: "Yes, I do. It's excellent") and subsequent sex, they fall madly in love, despite the intrusions of Elisabeth's nemesis, equally buxom beauty Julia (Karin Field). Alas, Alan and Elisabeth's amour is complicated by the fact that she's dead—a situation made more perplexing to Alan once Elisabeth disappears and Dr. Carmus (Peter Carsten) appears to explain (via a decapitated snake experiment) that, when people are killed in a moment of intense emotion, their survival-instinct-spirit lives on. Or something to that effect. Trying to make heads or tails of Web of the Spider is pointless, since there's no rhyme or reason to its plotting or transitions, especially once the story segues into its torturous A Christmas Carol-style middle section in which Dr. Carmus shows Alan how each of the castle's undead residents perished.

Web of the Spider

Those fatalities are uniformly mundane, and preceded by all sorts of romantic entanglements that make no difference to the ultimate fate of Alan, who watches these scenarios with a look of astounded horror unwarranted by the nonsense on display. It's eventually suggested—by a few random neck bites—that the castle's ghouls are actually vampires, a notion furthered by their final cries to a cornered Alan that "Blood is life!" Alan gets out of this predicament and tries to drag Elisabeth into the daylight, leading to Margheriti's sole beautiful image, of Elisabeth twirling in slow-motion and vanishing before she hits the ground. As befitting such a disastrous endeavor, however, that sight is immediately followed by the film's most inane moment, in which Alan responds to Elisabeth's disappearance by clumsily stumbling into branches and around grave markers before collapsing on the ground in slow motion that highlights his raging eyes and screaming mouth. After a twist of fate thwarts Alan's attempt at escape, Poe arrives on the scene and laments that no one will believe this story to be true—the one moment in Web of the Spider that's utterly convincing.

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Posted by ahillis at April 26, 2012 2:39 PM